KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: The international football players union FIFPro will stand up for any footballers who may face the threat of punishment if they express a political or lifestyle opinion at the Olympic Games in Tokyo later this year.

The International Olympic Committee warned, earlier this month, of disciplinary action against any athletes who use the televisual exposure of Games events – and medal presentations in particular – to make a gesture of belief.

Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter prohibits kneeling, making hand gestures with political significance, or expressing hostility to an opponent on the podium. IOC president Thomas Bach has insisted that political neutrality is essential for the Olympic Games to remain a place “where athletes from around the world can compete together in peace.”

However FIFPro is concerned that freedom of expression is being muzzled.

General secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann told a United Nations conference that the IOC was being hypocritical.

He said: “We believe their freedom of expression takes precedence over any other interest that may be at stake. The athletes who had the courage to speak out against discrimination in the past were pioneers, they made society evolve. But we still have this hypocritical rule. This is unacceptable. If the IOC decides to sanction players, we will certainly be by their side to defend them.”